Carl Hiaasen's comic thrillers come with a guarantee: broad humor that capitalizes on people's absurd behavior and Florida's quirkiness, mixed with social commentary that might rival Jonathan Swift and a deep concern for the environment, all wrapped in a solid plot.
Through the years, Hiaasen has honed his skills into a tight package that allows for spontaneous bursts of laughing out loud while being swept into an entertaining story. Hiaasen delivers all that and more in Bad Monkey, his 13th comic crime fiction.
No matter how over the top Hiassen's storytelling scales, he grounds it in reality, the Florida type of reality where scams and schemes co-exist on every corner.
Andrew Yancy, a former Miami cop and soon to be former sheriff's deputy in Monroe County, home of Key West, hasn't won many friends with his law enforcement colleagues. He lost his Miami job because his attempts to turn in a crooked cop who ran a Crime Stoppers scheme backfired. And in Key West, he's forced on "roach patrol" — or, as it is more politely described, restaurant inspector. That's because it doesn't look good when a deputy assaults his girlfriend's husband with a vacuum cleaner.
But Andrew is a good cop, and he can't turn off those instincts when he thinks there's something very fishy about a man's arm that turns up on the end of a tourist's fishing line. The arm, which seems to have been part of a shark's lunch, belongs to Nick Stripling, an entrepreneur in his 40s who made a fortune selling electric scooters to senior citizens. And the man's wife (or is it his widow?) just doesn't ring true to Andrew.
Although Andrew's job is making him physically ill, seeing what goes on in Key West kitchens, he's also energized by his investigation into the arm, and what happened to the rest of the man. If he solves the crime, if there is a crime, maybe he will get his job back. With the help of a lovely Miami medical examiner, Andrew follows a trail that takes him from the Keys to the Bahamas.
Bad Monkey is the closest Hiaasen — a columnist at the Miami Herald, a Herald-Leader sister paper — comes to a police procedural, but, true to form, it also is a look at the ludicrous ways of Florida, such as the true bait-and-switch in which a dead sailfish is surreptitiously placed on a tourist's line. Andrew delights in sending obnoxious people to filthy restaurants and he has a running battle on how to sabotage the sale of the mega-mansion next door that has spoiled his view of the sunsets and keeps the little Key deer away. He finds that a bit of well-placed road kill does wonders; so does a bunch of junk made to look like Santeria.
And there is indeed a bad monkey in Bad Monkey: a nasty, vile little creature named Driggs who loves to fling his waste and may have had a role in one of Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Driggs has nothing in common with the lovable lab in Hiaasen's Sick Puppy, but the monkey manages to have his moment in the spotlight.
The laughs come easy in Bad Monkey, as does the social commentary and the affectionate look at Florida's eccentricities.
By Carl Hiaasen
Knopf. 336 pages. $26.95.